Austin Pederson (supernumerary), Amanda Majeski (Ottone), Paul Groves (Gualtiero), and Joaquin Gonzalez (supernumerary) in Griselda,
Santa Fe Opera, 2011 (photo by Ken Howard)
What a double shame that the direction detracted from some first-rate musical performances, beginning with the elegant, polished Costanza of mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard, whom we have admired before in recital and on stage. Her knockout performance of the opera's biggest aria, Agitata da due venti, was both sure and appropriately rapid-fire, albeit at a slightly slower tempo than one hears from other singers, while there were a few problems with sustaining pitch in Ombre vane. David Daniels brought a sharp, slightly nasal edge to Roberto, and a rising countertenor, Yuri Minenko, was a graceful Corrado. Tenor Paul Groves had the right rage-filled tone as Gualtiero, but the demanding melismas of some of the arias, especially his first one (Se ria procella sorge dall'onde), were not in the voice. Conductor Grant Gershon led an ensemble of modern instruments (nice work by the horns in their couple of arias) plus two harpischords (one used by Gershon to accompany recitatives) and a theorbo, with generally fine results, in spite of a tendency to slow down the ends of B sections almost to a dead stop. All of the singers added beautifully conceived and sometimes thrilling embellishments to the da capo repeats, although it did little to assuage cranky audience members who thought it was only about repeating the same texts over and over again.
Isabel Leonard (Costanza) in Griselda, Santa Fe Opera, 2011 (photo by Ken Howard)
Anthony Tommasini, One Cruel King, by Way of Vivaldi (New York Times, August 10)
George Loomis, Griselda, Santa Fe Opera, New Mexico (Financial Times, August 8)
Kyle MacMillan, Santa Fe's adventuresome operas include "Griselda" and "Wozzeck" (Denver Post, August 7)
Lawrence A. Johnson, Vivaldi’s music and inspired cast trump bewildering plot in Santa Fe Opera’s “Griselda” (The Classical Review, August 5)
Mark Swed, Vivaldi's 'Griselda' revived in Santa Fe (Los Angeles Times, August 1)
Griselda at Santa Fe Opera (The Opera Tattler, July 30)
John Stege, The Good Wife (Santa Fe Reporter, July 20)
James M. Keller, SFO premiere of Vivaldi's 'Griselda' misfires (Santa Fe New Mexican, July 17)
The tale did not make much sense to an 18th-century mind either, so when Apostolo Zeno adapted the story as a libretto, he made the Italian marchese into the king of Thessaly, motivated to his brutal actions by the disapproval of his subjects for his low-born wife rather than just his own caprice. When Antonio Vivaldi was assigned the libretto for his first opera at Venice's Teatro San Samuele, he and his protegée Anna Girò, who created the title role, did not think much of Griselda's vaunted patience either. Carlo Goldoni recounted in his memoirs how Vivaldi asked him to make a new aria for Griselda, in which she does not patiently accept her husband's abuse but rails against it. Add to these many layers of meaning what Sellars saw in the opera, claiming that his staging aims to return the story to
Boccaccio, who regarded his parable of grace in the face of injustice and patience in a time when wrong appears to be triumphant, as a passion story in which the cleansing and redemptive power of suffering elevates a woman to the transcendent role of savior, healer, reconciler, and the divinely beloved.Who knows on what evidence Sellars makes this claim: it is enough to understand that Sellars believes it. He makes the point by having Griselda, at the low point of her humiliation, sing the opening movement of Vivaldi's Stabat mater instead of Vivaldi's aria for that moment, Son infelice tanto.
Graffiti artist Gronk returned to Santa Fe with another colorful abstract mural (imagery of brush fires and rain localized the work) that served as backdrop, unfortunately clashing in eye-squinting ways with the loud costumes of Dunya Ramicova. The men in bright-colored tuxedos looked like they were attending a high school prom circa 1978. Thessaly was some sort of police state, ruled by the wealthy, signified by Gualtiero marching around in a polo uniform and boots. Sunglass-sporting bodyguards stood solidly to either side of Gualtiero, and machine gun-toting commandos regularly terrorized other characters, including Griselda, only then to release her from her handcuffs and go away. Laughter erupted at the sight of Griselda easily disarming Ottone by taking his gun, and at the sudden reversal of the opera's conclusion, which Sellars undermined by having Griselda, in her blue apron (like those worn by employees at Walmart), just stay on stage sweeping in disbelief during the final chorus, again to much laughter. Is Sellars harping on the string of class discrepancy, the marginalization of an immigrant underclass, the inequality of the sexes? The staging is too incoherent for us to know.